September 19, 2014

Discussion will examine response to Ebola crisis

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A discussion at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will examine the ethical and political questions involved when the United States assists other nations during health crises, such as the Ebola outbreak. 

The presentation, “Assisting West Africa during the Ebola Crisis: Medical and Legal Perspectives,” is at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 23, in the Hiram H. Lesar Building Auditorium at the SIU School of Law. The lecture is free and open to the public. A reception at the law school will follow. 

The Southern Illinois chapter of the United Nations Association of the U.S.A. (UNA-USA), the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, and SIU School of Law are event sponsors.

Jennifer A. Brobst, assistant professor and director of the law school’s Center for Health Law and Policy, and Dr. Erica Kaufman, infectious disease specialist with SIH Medical Group, will discuss the Ebola crisis and its impact on the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is one of the largest Ebola outbreaks in history and the first in West Africa. 

Kaufman has worked in Kenya, Uganda and with the non-profit organization, Health Gives Hope Clinic in Ethiopia. The event will highlight the “real issue at the heart of this Ebola outbreak -- it is a social and political problem much more than a medical problem,” she said. 

Kaufman believes the virus should be easy to contain via simple contact tracing and quarantine, but a deep mistrust of the government and lack of attention to the health care infrastructure can leave situations spiraling out of control. 

Brobst said the U.S. watched the Ebola crisis from a distance while West African health systems and international nongovernmental organizations such as “Doctors Without Borders” and “Samaritan’s Purse” worked to contain the disease. The U.S. government has committed money, medical supplies and military support to West Africa, and it expedited research protocols for a possible vaccine. Public health systems in the U.S. are also preparing to manage an Ebola outbreak should it spread to this country.